Teams on a bye week: ARI, GB, JAC, LAR, NYG, TEN
MIA (4-2) @ BAL (3-4) | THU 8:25 PM ET | CBS/NFL Network/Amazon
It might be because of their Week 1 bye due to Hurricane Irma or because they haven’t looked great this season, but for whatever reason, the Dolphins are flying under the radar right now. Winners of three in a row, Miami has closed out two-straight games with 17 unanswered points, including last week when Matt Moore threw two touchdowns in relief of an injured Jay Cutler. Moore is the ideal backup and spot starter, so he shouldn’t be overwhelmed by a stingy Baltimore pass defense on Thursday night. Opposing him, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled this season, but he’s had little help from his supporting cast. Fortunately, the Dolphins don’t have a great cornerback group, especially after releasing Byron Maxwell earlier in the week, so Flacco could get going if his receivers can make some plays. Overall, Miami has more talent, so I like them to get their fourth-straight win by feeding Jay Ajayi in a close game.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
MIN (5-2) @ CLE (0-7) | SUN 9:30 PM ET (London) | NFL Network
The reasoning behind starting a rookie quarterback that stayed out at the bar until 1:30 AM over a second-year pro that does everything right is beyond me, but that’s what the Browns are going with, as DeShone Kizer—completing 52.0% of his passes for 965 yards and a 3:11 touchdown-intercpetion ratio—draws the start over in London against the Vikings. I’ve said it again and again, but Cody Kessler, who completed 65.6% of his passes for 1,380 yards and a 6:2 touchdown-interception ratio last season (on a worse roster), should be the starter. I was actually optimistic about Cleveland until Kizer was named the starting quarterback, and now things have fallen apart. Owner Jimmy Haslam might clean house after the season if things don’t dramatically turn around, so maybe Hue Jackson wants to go out with “his guy” if he was indeed the one that wanted Kizer. No one knows what will happen because it’s one man making the decisions, but could Haslam put his friend Peyton Manning in charge of the franchise? As far as this Sunday, Minnesota should win big.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
ATL (3-3) @ NYJ (3-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Atlanta started off 3-0 with wins against quality NFC North teams, but they’ve regressed since, losing three-straight against the AFC East, with the low point being their 23-7 loss in a Super Bowl LI rematch with New England. Offensively, the Falcons just don’t look like the same explosive group from a year ago, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian needs to do a better job of figuring out what Matt Ryan is comfortable with and in what situations. He also should probably commit more to the running game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, especially on the road against a New York team that’s allowing the fifth-most rushing yards per game in 2017. Outside of a Week 2 loss to the Raiders, the Jets have been in every game this season, and I expect them to give Atlanta a fight on Sunday. That said, the defending NFC champions have to many good players to not figure it out soon.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
CAR (4-3) @ TB (2-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Carolina was completely shut down by the Bears in Week 7, as they could only score three points, and two of their best drives resulted in defensive touchdowns for Chicago. Cam Newton has had some legitimate inaccuracy concerns, but as I said last week, he’s getting too much blame for the turnovers. I’m not sure what he could have been looking at on the second interception last Sunday, but the first one should have been caught by Kelvin Benjamin, and Curtis Samuel had the fumble “credited” to Newton bounce right off his hands. Cam threw three picks in last year’s Week 17 game against Tampa Bay, but overall, he has a quarterback rating of 99.7 in nine games versus the division foe. The Bucs have arguably the worst pass defense in the NFL, so he should have a big week as the Panthers look to keep pace with the Saints. On the other side of the ball, Luke Kuechly’s return would be huge in stopping Doug Martin and the running game, and Jameis Winston hasn’t played his best football when facing Ron Rivera’s defense. Also, Tampa Bay has some discord in the locker room after veterans T.J. Ward and Chris Baker voiced displeasure about playing time on Twitter.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
SF (0-7) @ PHI (6-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Philadelphia has the league’s top run defense, but as Jon Gruden said when the Eagles played on Monday Night Football, no one really even tries to run on them. Philly is allowing just 67.0 yards per game on the ground, but they aren’t even in the top ten in yards per carry allowed, and Jordan Hicks being lost for the season is probably the biggest loss imaginable for the unit. All that sets up well for Carlos Hyde to possibly have a big day for the 49ers on Sunday, but unless Carson Wentz’ play suddenly falls off a cliff and they get a handful of lucky bounces, San Francisco is going to have a difficult time picking up their first win of the year in a hostile environment. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a significant downgrade from Jason Peters at left tackle, but Wentz should stay hot to close out his MVP-worthy first half of the season. This would be a much more fun (and competitive) game if Chip Kelly was still coaching the Niners.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
CHI (3-4) @ NO (4-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Bears are a team I’ve said to keep an eye on since before the season opener when they took Atlanta to the wire, and defense is the reason why. Leonard Floyd leads an underrated group, and the 2016 first-round pick is turning it on with four sacks over the past four weeks. Stopping Drew Brees in the Superdome will be a lot different than shutting down the Panthers at Soldier Field, though, especially with the confident Saints looking to extend their winning streak to five games. The formula will continue to be feeding Jordan Howard, but there’s probably too much firepower for New Orleans with Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and others.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
LAC (3-4) @ NE (5-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
New England didn’t get into a shootout like football fans were hoping for against the Falcons on Sunday night, but I think there’s a really good chance we get one this Sunday with Philip Rivers coming to town. The Chargers are right back in the playoff race after shutting out the Broncos in Week 7, and they are due for a high-scoring game, as their total score average is barely 38 points per game; I think this should get into the 60s, especially with news breaking on Thursday morning that star linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s season is over for the Patriots. Already struggling with Hightower in the lineup, Bill Belichick’s defense might not be able to focus on one offensive player to try to erase, as Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, and Hunter Henry are all big-time threats, and there are a handful of other complimentary pieces that can make the teams pay. Los Angeles will also give the Pats fits on offense, as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should be able to get pressure on Tom Brady. Something tells me the Chargers will be in it late, but I don’t pick against TB12 at home.
Winner: New England Patriots
OAK (3-4) @ BUF (4-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
That was some ending to the Raiders-Chiefs game on Thursday night, as Oakland was able to upset Kansas City with an untimed-down connection between Derek Carr and Michael Crabtree to potentially save the season. A few days later, Buffalo also had an exciting conclusion against the Bucs, as rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White made yet another great play with a punch out and fumble recovery to set up a game-winning field goal. White will have his hands full with a confident Amari Cooper, but he’s proven to have a short memory just six games into his NFL career. Like many others, I didn’t think the Bills would be competitive after trading Sammy Watkins in the preseason, but I’m all in on them now. This would be a huge win before matchup with the Jets on a short week.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
IND (2-5) @ CIN (2-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It’s probably a little unfair for Colts head coach Chuck Pagano to spend his first season under new GM Chris Ballard without superstar quarterback Andrew Luck healthy—and the uncertainty about the whole situation just adds fuel to the frustration that players and coaches must be feeling. I’m assuming the fans want Luck to just sit the rest of the year so they can get a high draft pick, but I think—and I’m sure Chuck Pagano feels the same way—that you should win whatever games you can, so hopefully if Luck gets fully healthy, we see him at some point this year. I will say that thinking about Penn State’s Saquon Barkley lining up behind or alongside Luck is exciting, but we’re still a long while away from that possibility. Maybe Indianapolis will show some life with a road win in Cincinnati, but I think the Bengals will finally commit to Joe Mixon and pickup a convincing victory, though I don’t think the rookie can “do way more” than Le’Veon Bell as he claims.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
HOU (3-3) @ SEA (4-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
A bye week might have cooled off Deshaun Watson some, but it also gave him and the Texans more time to prepare for a Week 8 matchup in Seattle. Because of injuries on defense, Watson will be asked to do a lot over the final ten games of the season, but he’s up for it, and playing at CenturyLink isn’t quite as intimidating as it used to be. That’s probably because the Legion of Boom has taken a small step back, but the wild card factor remains in play for the Seahawks in general (just last week Doug Baldwin shoved offensive line coach Tom Cable). They need to get Thomas Rawls or Eddie Lacy going to support Russell Wilson, but I think Sunday afternoon will belong to the rookies for the Texans, as I’m interested to see if running back D’Onta Foreman can match the physicality of the Seahawks.
Winner: Houston Texans
DAL (3-3) @ WAS (3-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
It’s shocking because he plays for “America’s Team,” but Dak Prescott is quietly playing tremendous football, as Dallas is averaging 32.25 points per game over the past four games behind his arm and Ezekiel Elliott’s legs. Last week’s 40-10 victory over the 49ers gives the Cowboys some momentum heading into a crucial divisional matchup, and they are catching the Redskins at a good time (on a short week after a loss in Philadelphia). Hopefully cornerback Josh Norman returns from his rib injury to do battle with Dez Bryant to give Washington a boost, but I don’t think they have enough chemistry on offense to match Dak and Zeke on Sunday.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
PIT (5-2) @ DET (3-3) | SUN 8:30 PM ET | NBC
This just feels like it will be a fun Sunday Night Football matchup, and we deserve it after last week’s disappointing fog game. The Lions had the bye week to get over a crazy Week 6 loss to the Saints, and they should come out with a more balanced offensive approach after going away from that in two-straight losses, while the visiting Steelers are suddenly tied for the best record in the AFC after a shaky start to the season, and they still have a home matchup with the Patriots in December that could potentially be for the top seed in the playoffs. I could see this week’s game going either way, as Ben Roethlisberger’s play has been inconsistent, but Pittsburgh is really difficult to stop when they feed Le’Veon Bell. If he gets 30+ touches, they should improve to 6-2.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
DEN (3-3) @ KC (5-2) | MON 8:30 PM ET | ESPN
Kansas City has lost two-straight close games after starting off the season 5-0, but they’ve looked much better than Denver has recently, as the Broncos lost 23-10 to the then-winless Giants in Week 6 and were just shutout by the Chargers in Week 7. Unless they want to bring Tim Tebow back, I don’t see how making a quarterback change would be a good move; Trevor Siemian has been solid over the past two years, and he faced constant pressure against Los Angeles. For his part, wideout Demaryius Thomas has his quarterback’s back, saying earlier in the week about Siemian, “The man is a warrior to me.” I think Denver will be a lot better on Monday night, and could even unleash Jamaal Charles against his former team, but the Chiefs are tough to beat in Arrowhead. I like Kansas City in a close one.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs